Mosiah 12

I smile a bit at the very first verse of this chapter, for we learn:

And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them in their iniquities and abominations.

(Mosiah 12:1, my emphasis)

Abinadi’s disguise did not last very long, for he promptly announces himself. I’m not sure why this is. There’s been several suggestions, Alan Goff in particular appealing to the idea of a type scene in the Old Testament of a king or a prophet disguising themselves when going to see a prophet or another king (see here for a summary of the suggestion). I’m not convinced, however; not only are the proffered examples mostly kings (with only one offered example of a prophet in disguise), but crucially the prophet reveals himself after presenting his message to the king. Here, however, Abinadi promptly reveals himself when speaking to the people, long before seeing the king. So I’m not sure, but my gut instinct suggests something more is going on. Though, as suggested, it may well have a connection with Noah’s “who is Abinadi… or who is the Lord that shall bring upon my people such great affliction” from the preceding chapter (Mosiah 11:27).

Verse 3 of this chapter does appear to be a direct reply to Noah’s challenge:

And it shall come to pass that the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace; for he shall know that I am the Lord.

The Lord’s answer appears to be that the time will come when Noah will know full well the answer to his question, but by that point it will be far too late (and painful)!

I was also struck by verse 8, another part of Abinadi’s prophecy against the people:

And it shall come to pass that except they repent I will utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth; yet they shall leave a record behind them, and I will preserve them for other nations which shall possess the land; yea, even this will I do that I may discover the abominations of this people to other nations. And many things did Abinadi prophesy against this people.

On one hand I was struck by the fact that, of course, this did eventually happen, albeit not with these people at this time, but with their descendants centuries hence. What stood out more, however, was I feel like this answers part of the puzzle as to why king Limhi in particular, when we heard from him a few chapters ago, was particularly interested to learn the contents of records his people had retrieved from the ruins of the civilisation northwards, and particularly the reason that civilisation had been destroyed (Mosiah 8:12). Remember, of course, that we’re in somewhat of a flashback sequence here: Limhi is the son of king Noah, speaking to Ammon some years later. But perhaps Limhi remembered these words of Abinadi, that have this concept of records being left behind and preserved by God of civilisations he has caused to be destroyed.

In Mosiah 11, I commented on some disingenuousness on the part of king Noah, but it’s interesting to see it also displayed by his people here too. Thus from verse 9 onwards:

And it came to pass that they were angry with him; and they took him and carried him bound before the king, and said unto the king: Behold, we have brought a man before thee who has prophesied evil concerning thy people, and saith that God will destroy them.

And he also prophesieth evil concerning thy life, and saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire.

And again, he saith that thou shalt be as a stalk, even as a dry stalk of the field, which is run over by the beasts and trodden under foot.

And again, he saith thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land. And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it. And he saith all this shall come upon thee except thou repent, and this because of thine iniquities.

And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?

(Mosiah 12:9-13, bold is my emphasis)

Now the people’s paraphrase of Abinadi’s words against the king in verse 10 is not word for word, but it’s close enough to what Abinadi said in verse 3. However, verses 11 and 12 are very interesting; verse 3 is the only thing Abinadi said about Noah specifically, so where’s the content of verses 11 and 12 coming from? Now verse 8 does state that Abinadi prophesied “many things” against the people, so perhaps it’s not mentioned. But I have another theory. It seems to me that there is a resemblance (although a rather looser one) between the report in verses 11-12 and Abinadi’s words as we have them in the remainder of verses 2-7: there’s mention of beasts (v. 2), the wind (v. 6), of crops (grain in v. 6, implied by mention of stalk in verse 11). But crucially, these are not words that Abinadi directs against the king, but against the people.

My suggestion is that the people are offended not so much at Abinadi’s words against Noah as they are the words directed at them personally. Thus verse 13: “and now, O king, what great evil has thou done, or what great sins have they people committed, that we should be condemned of God, or judged of this man?” It is pitched as the people taking offence at words spoken against the king, but their real concern – being offended at works spoken about them – comes right out afterwards, despite the fact it appears they have recast many of Abinadi’s prophecies as being about the king in an attempt to rouse him to anger (Noah’s priests will also manipulate Noah by playing on his anger in Mosiah 17:12). And perhaps the passionate offence the people felt at Abinadi’s words against them also explains why they report these words less accurately than the actual words Abinadi directed against the king: in the former case their emotional reaction may even have affected their memory (anger strongly affects what people think they hear), while the words actually directed at the king himself were regarded more dispassionately.

Connected to this, in some degree, although this is not a new observation, is what I believe is the reason the priests of Noah end up quoting Isaiah 52:7-10 (incidentally a frequently quoted scripture in the Book of Mormon, albeit usually from better sources than the wicked priests):

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;

Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;

Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;

The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?

(Mosiah 12:21-24)

Why would the priests of Noah quote these words and ask Abinadi about them? I think the crucial issue is that they’re trying to catch Abinadi out. All parties involved – king and people both – have taken offence at Abinadi’s prophecies of affliction and destruction. These verses, however, speak about “good tidings”, about those that preach “peace” and “salvation”, and speaking about how the Lord has “comforted his people [and] hath redeemed Jerusalem”. My suggestion is that the priests of Noah are offering these up as a contrast, an implied claim that they contradict Abinadi’s prophecies and so the latter can’t possibly be true. Of course Abinadi takes the opportunity they give him to speak and runs with it, but I think we can learn from the contrast between the two prophecies and the priests attempted misuse of Isaiah. For as readers, we can know, as they do not, that both prophecies are true.

Why is this important? Because  I think the same temptation can exist today, to have a very selective image of God and his words. The priests of Noah appear to imply that because God has given prophecies offering hope, peace and good tidings, that he couldn’t possibly offer prophecies that threaten destruction and death. But he gave both. Likewise, as I’ve written about before, there’s selective images of Christ, that emphasis only a part of his character and teachings, and ignore those that run counter to it. Rather perversely, this makes Christ himself “un-Christlike” by some people’s selective definitions, but even more crucially it can be a species of idolatry, albeit of an idol that exists only in the mind.

We may all have favourite teachings in the scriptures, parts that particularly resonate with our personality, or which perhaps we need particularly need to hear. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we do need to be careful not to ignore those parts that may challenge us, or which differ from those that accord with us so well. It may well be that it is those passages we particularly need to pay attention too, just as Noah’s people really really needed to pay attention to Abinadi’s rather more grim prophecies. Likewise, just because we’re used to God speaking in a certain way, or on a certain topic, does not that he will not or cannot speak in very different ways and on different topics. We should not and cannot try to limit God’s word, either as it exists in the past or will exist in the future. All we’d succeed in doing is deafening ourselves to the full range of all that God has to tell us.

Deuteronomy again…

The interpreter has published yet another article which bases its arguments on the supposed Deuteronomists and their supposed apostasies. In one respect I give this paper credit: it acknowledges that the very scholarly opinion that argues for the existence of said Deuteronomists also depicts them as the authors of that book (as that opinion has to, as the portrayed content of the Deueronomists views is entirely reconstructed from their supposed works). Unfortunately the author seems to embrace that to the very extent that I’ve previously warned of, speaking of the “Deuteronomists’ mists of monist darkness”, as this being “the Greater Apostasy that served as the essential foundation for the later Great Apostasy”, that the rejection of Christ “would have pleased Josiah” (any comments on how strongly I word this should note the severity of the judgment this paper flings at those safely dead), and in a reply to a comment characterises the book of Deuteronomy as inaugurating a tradition that will reject Christ, and which provided the basis for Laman, Lemuel and Sherem to oppose and seek to kill the prophets.

One would hardly believe, from this argument, that Deuteronomy was the biblical book Jesus quoted more than any other than the Psalms (including in a rebuttal against the devil himself (Deuteronomy 6:13, 16, 8:3 in Matthew 4:4, 7, 10 & Luke 4:4, 8, 12). Nor that Nephi would quote Deuteronomy as scripture.

I object strongly to these arguments, as I’ve done before. I object to what appears to be significant mischaracterisation and distortion of the teachings of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history. I object what appears to be extremely esoteric and unfounded readings of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, particularly when they make the rather astounding claim that such esoteric readings are restoring “plainness” in contrast to those “looking beyond the mark” (I would suggest this is in danger of being opposite the truth). I object to the characterisation of those who engaged in idolatrous worship as somehow defending the “plainness” of gospel, as in footnote 42, which approvingly cites Margaret Barker who quotes Jeremiah 44:15-19 as an example of those who claim that not worshipping the “queen of heaven” lead to the fall of Jerusalem. The author (and Christensen, who made the same argument) fails to note that these people are rebuked by no less than Jeremiah “because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed”, namely their idolatry (see vv. 3, 5, 8, 23 and 25, including specifically for burning incense and making offerings “to the queen of heaven”); to follow the author’s argument, Jeremiah is now taking the “greater apostasy”‘s part (and since Lehi and Nephi accept Jeremiah as a prophet, this perspective collapses under its own contradictions).

Moreover, I object to the way this argument keeps building upon the assumptions made in prior papers and treating said assumptions as proved fact, while flat out ignoring any critiques; what in fact provoked me to try to comment on the piece was the statement that “That the Deuteronomist reform is the Greater Apostasy is an overdetermined fact”, when the very existence of the Deuteronomists is conjectural, let alone the misreading that places them in charge in post-Josiah Jerusalem. I objected to Rappleye’s earlier argument because he took claims by Christensen as absolute: this people now it turn take’s Rappleye’s claims as similarly proven fact. I’ve written a number of posts making critiques of both Christensen and Rappleye’s arguments, but these papers never at any time pause to respond to these issues, or even suggest that they’ve read any counterarguments (I’m a fairly obscure figure, but I’m not the only one to criticise this approach). I’ve even responded to the woeful reading of Jeremiah 44 multiple times, and yet it keeps being raised as evidence in a way that suggests not only have they not read any critique against their use , but they haven’t read the rest of Jeremiah 44 either. Lest you think I’m being harsh, think of the number of figures the Bible depicts as being inspired that these arguments insist are apostate, prophet-murdering, Christ deniers.

Furthermore, it seems quite apparent that at least some of the motivation behind these arguments on the part of some is an effort to justify worship of “Mother in Heaven”. Hence the author’s claim that:

Even “Latter-day Saints are still too reliant upon the assumptions, the implications, and especially the language that generations of well- intentioned but misguided theologians and Reformers alike introduced into the domain of religious thought.”93 It thus remains an open question whether members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ are culturally prepared to fully emerge from the mists of darkness, ignore the inevitable mocking that would ensue from various great and spacious buildings, and more openly and consistently speak of their Mother in Heaven as Lehi and Nephi seem to have done.

Set aside the fact that Lehi and Nephi do not “openly and consistently speak” of any Mother in Heaven, though they can hardly have done so when any mention can only “revealed” when decoded via the sort of esoteric readings engaged in here. More is the fact that the arguments are raised to push a change in worship, a practice those arguing for appear themselves to align with those Jeremiah and other prophets condemned as idolaters, and indeed what appears to be in contravention not only of ancient, but also modern scripture:

And [God] gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.

(Doctrine & Covenants 20:19).

Do “the mists of darkness” permeate the Doctrine and Covenants now too? And who does the author depict as the “great and spacious buildings” that would object, when the world at large would applaud such a move? I imagine those in favour of these arguments would object to any denigration of their faithfulness, yet they impugn ancient inspired figures, describe a book that Jesus himself used as scripture as part of the satanically inspired mists of darkness (and thus logically should be rejected!), and implicitly suggest that those who oppose their argument are aligned with the “great and spacious building” that is “the pride of the world”, all in an attempt to push a change to worship that they favour.

In all in all it is rather dispiriting that this approach seems so favoured by the journal that aims to be faithful and to defend Church teachings. They rightly push back against those who criticise and try to de-canonise the Book of Mormon in an attempt to change the teachings of the Church, but this approach does the same thing to other parts of scripture, and does so with assumption piled on assumption and esoteric readings that go far beyond the “plainness” it purports to support. It’s not even coherent: any attempt to throw Deuteronomy under the bus is liable to take the Book of Mormon with it.

For reference’s sake, these are my previous criticisms of the modern day anti-Deuteronomists.

“Defending Deuteronomy” – My criticism of an article by Kevin Christensen

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #1” – Part 1 of my critique of Rappleye’s article, focusing particularly on uncritical use of secondary sources.

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #2: Laman and Lemuel as supposed Deuteronomists” – Part 2, criticising the argument that Laman and Lemuel were Deuteronomists.

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #3: Deuteronomy in 1-2 Nephi” – Part 3, addressing the use of Deuteronomy by Lehi and Nephi.

I attempted to comment on the article itself (well, in response to one of the author’s replies), but it may have been eaten by the Interpreter’s auto-moderation (Edit: it did get through), so I reproduce it here, though it does overlap with some of what I have said above:

Comment:

That the Deuteronomist reform is the Greater Apostasy is an overdetermined fact.

I don’t know if it’s possible to object to this statement any more strongly. Previous papers along these lines appear to rest upon a whole set of assumptions, which in turn seem to rest on what I regard as rather fallacious interpretations of the so-called Deuteronomists and Josiah’s reforms. Later papers then seem to take these assumptions as proven. There’s seems to have been little attempt to engage or even argue against criticisms of this theory, for all of its significant implications.

Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob all condemn the views of the Jews then living in Jerusalem. The city is on the verge of total destruction, a pretty good sign that it has taken a wrong turn with Josiah’s reform.

Except that, according to both Kings, Chronicles and Jeremiah (and Ezekiel), the reforms of Josiah didn’t stick. Indeed, a great error of the people following was their worship of idols, including Asherah (for instance, Jeremiah 17:2). This is just an exhibit of the problem: this approach seems to gloss over the entire Josiah/post-Josiah situation, and assume the whole era is an exhibit of the reforms, when the texts read quite differently.

Each man is given a book, Josiah receiving from Shaphan the scribe a book many scholars think was written by Hilkiah the High Priest, a book that centralizes power in the hands of king and high priest, a book that comes from man and that will be interpreted by scribes in the rabbinic religion that this reform inaugurates, a religious tradition that will reject Christ, God with God, when he comes to them 600 years later.

“[M]any scholars” also think that book is Deuteronomy, a book that Nephi will explicitly quote (and indeed, quote a Messianic prophecy from). In fairness to you, it appears you appreciate this.

Was Deuteronomy canonized incorrectly? Deuteronomy contains much truth. Hilkiah is probably not its only author if its author at all… We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated/transmitted correctly. Deuteronomy like other parts of the Bible would seem to contain a mixture of much true and some false doctrine.

On one hand I commend the embrace of the implications of this argument (Christensen and Rappleye appear to have resisted this, at least in part because they did not realise that the “Deuteronomists” were conceived as the very authors of the work). On the other, this illustrates precisely the outcome that I said would be the conclusion of this approach.

Yet Nephi accepts the book of Deuteronomy as authoritative scripture. He quotes from it, he describes the plates of brass as containing the *five* books of Moses, and furthermore the vision he describes of the loss of plain and precious things from the Bible in 1 Nephi 13 does not fit what is proposed here: Nephi is told that “many plain and precious things [are] taken away from the book” (1 Nephi 13:28) – not that false teachings would be substituted in – and that these writings “go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God” (1 Nephi 13:25): that is this process post-dates Nephi and the transmission of these writings (which include both OT and NT material) to the Gentiles.

But in chapter 13, it also provides mandates Laman, Lemuel, and Sherem—Deuteronomists all–follow as they oppose and seek to kill the prophets who preach the Gospel of Christ.

This is precisely issue I’m talking about: previous arguments become assumptions and then become “overdetermined fact[s]”. Rappleye argued that Laman and Lemuel were Deuteronomists, as you indicate in your main article, to which you clearly agree. But here it’s quite clear you regard it as almost incontrovertible. Yet Rappleye hardly proved his case (I argue against it in the 2nd part of a 3 part blog article here [the links above] ).

I expressed myself in quite strong terms here (although I believe still civilly), but I believe these are serious issues with huge implications. This article refers to “the Deuteronomists’ mists of monist darkness”, implicitly characterising the teachings of the book – a book that *the Saviour* quoted often as scripture – as part of the “temptations of the devil” said mists are interpreted as in 1 Nephi 12:17. Such an argument is already using severe terms for someone. Moreover, it seems to garb its argument as a restoration of “plainness”, when it is reading Lehi, Nephi and Jacob in a frankly esoteric way.

Edit & follow-up comment:

To his credit, the author of the article (Val Larsen) responded in the comments section of the above article; I invite anyone interested to read and consider his reply.

As I see it, there are in a sense several further issues:

1) Any data that contradicts the anti-Deuteronomistic perspective – such as accounts of Manasseh’s idolatries and those of Josiah’s successors, or the condemnation Jeremiah issued of worship of the “Queen of Heaven” (and the other idols associated with her, it shouldn’t be forgotten), or for that matter when Isaiah condemns earlier idol worship amongst the Israelites, and so on – tends to be explained as the results of the Deuteronomists tampering with scripture, altering things to justify their position. The author takes that approach in his reply. The problem with this approach is that it essentially “rigs” the argument in advance: any evidence in the Old Testament against their argument gets dismissed as tampering, anything that might be read as supportive gets accepted. The criteria for what has and what has not been tampered with becomes the degree to which a given passage suits the preexisting idea, allowing proponents to pick and choose evidence, and deny possible criteria for falsification. There’s obvious problems with this approach, not least the which is that it risks being incoherent: the argument that said “Deuteronomists” even existed rests, after all, on a reading of the very same documents.

2) Said “tampering” also relies upon generalities, especially since there is, it appears to me, still a desire to have one’s cake and eat it, to not completely ditch Deuteronomy, the DH, Jeremiah and the rest of the Old Testament. As long as it’s kept to vague generalities, such a position may be plausible. It seems less so when one becomes specific: just considering Jeremiah 44 alone, for instance, what must be taken out in order to make it read as an endorsement of “Queen of Heaven” worship. Most of the chapter must apparently be culled or dismissed as spurious, but then what does the remainder even say: those trying to justify themselves to Jeremiah are left speaking in a vacuum.

3) There’s little sense here that the Old Testament can even serve as a “standard work” here, when large parts are to be freely dismissed when they contradict a preexisting idea. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Book of Mormon not only claims to be true itself, but depicts one of its key aims as supporting the truth of the biblical writings (see 1 Nephi 13:40, Mormon 7:9, and compare with the similar statement in the Doctrine and Covenants in D&C 20:11). Furthermore, this issue gets to the heart of how we define scripture. Scripture can’t simply be writings we think are partly, or even mostly, or even completely true (this is not an argument about inerrancy): there’s plenty of writings I consider to be true but not scripture. I’ve written about this topic before, and to summarise from that post and particularly how the Book of Mormon describes scripture, scriptural status describes something about the innate qualities of the work, including that it is true, but also that it is objectively inspired (i.e. not just inspirational or true, but the result in some way of communication from God), and I’d add authoritative (i.e. that it is not just private revelation, but intended to be binding upon its audience). There is little sense, in the anti-Deuteronomistic arguments, of how this status could be regarded as being true of much of the Old Testament (especially since – and it should not be forgotten – that the biblical scholars who proposed the existence of the Deuteronomists did so to propose the authors of Deuteronomy).

4) One issue that seems to slip through the net is the depiction of the ideology of the Deuteronomists (and implicitly that of Deuteronomy & the Deuteronomistic history, since said ideology is a reconstruction from those writings). I recognise that Larsen and Rappleye rely to a fair degree of the depiction that Christensen derives from Barker. But I do not think Christensen or Barker’s depictions are accurate or fair. I also think there are problems with Barker’s research: her depiction relies upon writings that post-date the period by centuries, in some cases by over a millennium. For that matter, it’s also worth pointing out that the religious situation before Josiah’s reforms was not static or stable. Indeed, the OT depiction is that of cycles of idolatry and apostasy, the sort of depiction that should be familiar to readers of the Book of Mormon.

5) Again to his credit, Val Larsen admits that he takes another guiding principle as normative, namely what he terms “Joseph’s mature theology”, especially as it pertains to the idea of a heavenly mother. But there’s problems with such an approach: the content of Joseph Smith’s “mature theology” is debated, constructed and reconstructed as it is from sometimes differing accounts of sermons, private addresses and so on (not all of which are consistent). The extent to which these should be given priority over actual revelation and scripture is questionable, particularly when it’s not always clear what was meant (it’s certainly not the Church’s approach to doctrine today). Much is inferred from other teachings, or based on second-hand sources from followers. This is particularly true when it comes to the matter of a “heavenly mother”, where there’s little direct record of Joseph teaching explicitly about the subject, and even the second-hand mentions are little more than brief references. This certainly suggests it wasn’t the overarching priority of the restoration. Furthermore, this “mature theology” is also tied up with the issue of polygamy, with at least some of Joseph’s followers (such as Parley P. Pratt) taking this idea of “heavenly mother” in directions that modern advocates presumably do not want to follow.

Liberalism: the other God that failed – UnHerd

A very thought provoking article on Unherd, suggesting that belief in modern liberalism (including the myth of progress) may resemble belief in Communism more closely than some might think, and that liberalism may suffer the same eventual fate. An excerpt:

That liberal societies have existed, in some parts of the world over the past few centuries, is a fact established by empirical inquiry. That these societies embody the meaning of history is a confession of faith. However much its devotees may deny it, secular liberalism is an oxymoron.

A later generation of ex-communists confirms this conclusion. Trotskyists such as Irving Kristol and Christopher Hitchens who became neo-conservatives or hawkish liberals in the Eighties or Nineties did not relinquish their view of history as the march towards a universal system of government. They simply altered their view as to the nature of the destination.

via Liberalism: the other God that failed – UnHerd

Helaman 13

It’s been a long while since I’ve written one of these, and I feel that I’d like to do better at it. To recap, this is part of a series generated by my personal reading of the Book of Mormon, in which I happen to comment on one or two (or occasionally more) things that leapt out at me during my reading. It doesn’t aim to be an exhaustive or comprehensive examination of the chapter (the former I’d argue would likely be impossible), but simply commenting on something that struck me during my reading.

While reading Helaman 13 this morning, several points of varying importance came to mind:

  1. Firstly, I was curious about the fact that Samuel the Lamanite mentions several times (Alma 13:5, 9) that the Nephites face destruction in under “four hundred years”. Alma the younger has already mentioned the figure in Alma 45:10, although that is privately to his son Helaman. I am curious as to whether Samuel’s audience dismissed his remarks because it all sounds so far away. Of course, Samuel is also discussing more imminent events (and gives more imminent dates for those in the next chapter), but I guess many people’s natural response is to not worry about what will happen in four hundred years.
  2. One line that struck: “nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Helaman 13:6). I think this is true (and think it is being used here) both individually and collectively. But, individually and collectively, we often have a tendency to look towards different sources of salvation, whether it be the “right” political leaders, wealth, our own powers or intellect or whatever. In an ultimate sense, however, we all need to depend upon those two principles.
  3. Overall the chapter spends a lot of time talking about wealth, and it becoming “slippery”, so that the people are unable to find or keep it. I was wondering about why the focus on this, and think that part of the reason is the relationship people have with their riches here is emblematic of several serious sins. On one hand, one major sin is that the people do not remember and thank God for their material blessings, instead becoming prideful (Helaman 13:22); ingratitude may be a far more serious sin then we realise (see D&C 59, in which thanking God is specifically listed amongst the commandments given in vv. 5-13, and “confess[ing] not his hand in all things” is described as invoking God’s wrath in v. 21). On the other hand, the people trust in their riches (rather than God) and depend on them to preserve them from their poverty (Helaman 13:31-32), or to work or defend themselves (the mention of tools and weapons in particular in v. 34). The treasures becoming slippery teaches both that He who gave them can take them away, and that such material things are not dependable and to be trusted in.
  4. One to tag onto the list of “scary passages”, Helaman 13:37-38 is a particularly imposing passage:

Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in those days.
But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.

 

“The Idolatry of the Donald”

An interesting article here on the dangers of state idolatry and where that has lead: The Idolatry of the Donald | The American Conservative

The phenomenon described in the article seem so obvious it feels like it hardly needs elaborating. Some of the finer patriots in history – American ones included – understood that the quest for national greatness could not be done in separation from a quest for goodness. Over the last year, I think we’ve seen that for many people, national goodness is seen as irrelevant or even counter-productive. So they’ll vote for a man who has insisted he’d order war crimes to make America “great” again.

The books of Mormon, Ether and Moroni have been much on my mind the past few weeks. I don’t think that their message has ever been more relevant, as they describe how a nation’s pride, arrogance and desire for vengeance can lead to self-destruction, and touch on how an individual can possibly respond to such times. It’s a topic I plan to return to.

2 Nephi 12

And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, {shall be} upon every one; yea, upon the {that is} proud and lofty, and upon every one who {that} is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.

Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come upon all the cedars of Lebanon, for they {that} are high and lifted up; and upon all the oaks of Bashan;

And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which {that} are lifted up, and upon every people;

(2 Nephi 12:11-14//Isaiah 2:11-14, bold indicates text not found in the KJV, underlined text indicates substitutions for text in curly brackets)

Pride is a major theme of the Book of Mormon, which depicts pride as the pre-eminent source of evil. Much of the narrative of the Book of Mormon shows the dangers of pride. But the book not only warns against pride – it also warns that the time left for such pride is limited, and a reckoning is coming. It is little surprise that the Book of Mormon quotes Isaiah so much, since that too warns of God’s judgment upon the proud. When one looks at the textual differences between Isaiah as quoted in the Book of Mormon and in the King James Version, however, its striking that many of the textual differences stress this impending judgment: both the imminence (“soon cometh upon all nations”) and the universal scope (“upon all the nations” and “upon every people”) of this divine wrath are emphasised above.

While there’s obviously a personal application to this, and maybe personal pride is what I and maybe others should be most concerned about, in my current sombre mood I can’t help but reflect on our culture as a whole. When I read Isaiah, and read (as I will once again in forthcoming chapters) of divine judgment coming upon rich and proud cities, I can’t help but see not ancient Babylon or Tyre, but our own cities and our own wealth. Even in the recent political commotion, when people are perhaps shocked a little out of complacency and the assumption that nothing bad can happen to us, the response seems to be one of rage and enmity. Humility is derided and mocked. Yet perhaps there’s more to be learned personally from this too: that in all these things, big and small, grand or personal, salvation will come from humble acceptance of the Lord’s will. Angry striving and proud self-assertion will not change our fate, but will only bring upon us the Lord’s judgment. And that applies to any of us, for:

O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.

(2 Nephi 12:5//Isaiah 5, bold as above)

Yet while much of this chapter warns all of us about the Lord’s forthcoming judgments, it does also promise an age of peace. The Lord will “rebuke many nations”, but after that – and I believe this must apply to our own personal conflicts and the weapons of our pride as much as it does actual weapons – “they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks – nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2 Nephi 12:4//Isaiah 2:4).

2020 Edit:

This is the beginning of a 13 chapter-long quotation of Isaiah, by far the longest of the explicit quotations. Some of the quoted chapters exhibit greater variations from the KJV (& Masoretic Text) than others, so 2 Nephi 21//Isaiah 11 is identical to that found in the KJV, while 2 Nephi 12//Isaiah 2 – today’s chapter – shows a number of significant variations, beyond that spoken about above.

Some, as mentioned above, emphasise this theme of judgment, as in verse 10 (bold are additions relative to the KJV, text in triangular brackets is omitted from the Book of Mormon):

O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and <for> the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.

Others emphasise other elements, such as the changes in verse 9:

And the mean man boweth not [ET/1830 omit: not] down, and the great man humbleth himself not [ET omits: not], therefore, forgive him {them} [ET: them] not.

The insertions of not here are interesting, because it changes the problem from the mean and great man bowing themselves (presumably to idols, in keeping with verse 8), to one of they not bowing themselves (a problem of pride). Both elements are a concern of Isaiah, and the textual differences here may leave verse 9 less consonant with verse 8, but they do leave it more in keeping with some of the passages that follow:

And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

(2 Nephi 12:11//Isaiah 2:11)

And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

(2 Nephi 12:17//Isaiah 2:17)

And especially:

And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.

(2 Nephi 15:15//Isaiah 5:15)

With the changes to 2 Nephi 12:9//Isaiah 2:9, 2 Nephi 15:15//Isaiah 5:15 becomes the perfect counterpoint: the mean man shall be brought down and the mighty man humbled after all. It should be noticed that both idolatry and pride are condemned in Isaiah and in the Book of Mormon; what the Book of Mormon variant does here is shift some of the emphasis more towards a condemnation of pride, but it is not introducing nor removing either strand of Isaiah’s critique.

One thing I did find striking in reading this chapter today, however, was that despite all the emphasis the chapter places on the forthcoming judgment and destruction to come upon the proud and idolatrous, that the chapter opens instead with what comes after that, with a description of the Temple in its rightful place (for surely “top of the mountains” and “exalted above the hills” has a social meaning, not merely a geographical one), with all peoples looking towards it for guidance, and being blessed with peace:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks—nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

(2 Nephi 12:2-4//Isaiah 2:2-4)

It is this vision of righteousness and peace that the quotation begins with, rather than the process by which it will get there, even if it ultimately devotes more textual space to the latter. It begins not by describing the way things are, and what needs to be done about that, but by describing how things should be, the ideal that is God’s design. And perhaps that’s what we need to accomplish anything: to start in the first place with a vision of what things can and should be.

 

 

Why Trumpism is proto-fascistic

I am somewhat relieved that Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, although that by no means knocks him out of a race in which he still leads the polls. I’ve made little secret elsewhere that I regard his candidacy as a disaster, although that by no means makes me a fan of many of the others. Cruz consistently seems a little off and until recently he was particularly pusillanimous in his sucking up to Trump (although I doubt he’s the “Manitoban Candidate”), and as for Hillary Clinton, one of the most openly corrupt and autocratic of US politicians? Well I’ve repeatedly referred to a hypothetical Trump-Clinton contest as Aliens vs Predator: “whichever side wins, we lose”.

Trump however does come into a special category by himself. I don’t know whether he actually believes half of what he’s saying, especially as in many cases he’s expressed the opposite opinion in the last couple of years. But he does seem, in both his business and highly publicised (by himself) personal life, to have a very flexible attitude towards keeping commitments. Moreover, while I have a pessimistic outlook on the future of the West, I think Trump’s observable temperament means that any presidency of his could risk accelerating the risk of world war three (and consequent collapse of world trade) from some time in the next decade to within the next eighteen months.

But while Donald Trump is a demagogue and a reality tv star who knows how to pander to a crowd, he’s not a fascist. Some of his followers may be even more worrying. Trump’s political career may (and I stress may) also be on a downward slope. Yet Trumpism may live on. Trump’s rivals doubtless have to try and secure the support of at least some of them, and so may tamper any criticisms. I, however, am neither running for office nor am even American, so I can say what I like.

Yet I am not seeking to merely make a lazy accusation here (and there have been a few). I don’t think all, or even most of Trump’s supporters are driven by racism; I believe the increased visibility of some self-proclaimed “white nationalists” are the work of noisy and poisonous minority. When I accuse “Trumpism” of being “proto-fascistic”, I am referring to certain common threads I’ve seen among a range of Trump supporters, and I am not using fascism in the discredited sense (even in George Orwell’s time) of “something I don’t like”. Nor am I using it in the sense in which it is often used by left-wing groups as “a slur against something right-wing”; an often hypocritical charge, since left-wing political extremism is just a bloody, and here in Britain at least it is Labour who are compromising most on this front with the appointment of people like Seumus Milne, who is an apologist for Stalin’s genocides.

But there are certain common strands to fascistic groups (which – in my view – includes National Socialism, although that had its own rather particular features such as its obsession with race). Some in particular seem – in my view, and in an early, undeveloped state – to find regular expression amongst Trump supporters:

1) “He’s a strong leader”:- Trump is not the most consistent of ideological champions. He has, even in the last couple of years, been on both sides of issues that many Republicans, including his supporters, have said are important: immigration (he felt Romney in 2012 – who did not propose mass expulsions – was too anti-immigrant, now it’s his main issue); health care (he praised single-payer health care – seeming anathema to Republicans who reject Obamacare – in on of the Republican presidential debates last year); abortion (was strongly “pro-choice” until very recently) and many others. It’s difficult to find a policy, or a person (such as his opinions and support for Hillary Clinton – or more recently Ted Cruz), that he hasn’t been on both sides of. The only issue he appears to be consistent on are his protectionist instincts.

Yet any past and indeed present heterodoxies are excused on the basis of him being “a strong leader”. That they are so easily excused is quite baffling, especially when some of his supporters have generally been extremely purist in their approach to politicians in the past, and in fact still are. It’s only on Trump that such rules are relaxed. Indeed, some of his supporters seem willing to change their views to whatever he supports (although the same goes for some of his opponents)! In any case, however, this denigration of abstract principle in favour of appealing to “strength” or perceived “alpha male” qualities is characteristic of (although by no means limited to) fascistic movements. Any inconsistencies or problems with the leader are dismissed out of hand, as with the Führerprinzip, principles are for “losers”.

2) “The Establishment”:- One reason any such inconsistencies is dismissed is because of the perceived impurities of the chosen scapegoat. The Trump campaign and its followers have scapegoated a variety of targets – Mexicans (despite most illegal immigrants now being visa overstays), Muslims (as much as I discourage naivety, picking a fight with all Muslims – most of whom aren’t terrorists – seems stupid) – but none has achieved more mythic proportions than the shadowy “establishment”, who simultaneously are all powerful but cannot get their supposed favourite Jeb Bush higher than a couple of percent in the polls. Despite there being a multitude of other candidates, this “establishment” is supposedly firmly united in their desire to beat Trump so they can lose to Hillary.

It is moreover the “establishment” that are to blame for Obama’s policies, because they didn’t stop him (that Obama is using executive orders, or that to impeach him you’d need a political case strong enough to persaude about a third of Democratic senators to vote for impeachment too are mere details – see below). Nor can they do anything right – Paul Ryan is blamed for passing a spending bill that includes funds to Planned Parenthood, despite him being the first to actually get a bill defunding Planned Parenthood to Obama’s desk, and despite the fact that Trump himself is not in favour of defunding Planned Parenthood. Likewise anyone can belong to the “establishment”, including people praised by the Tea Party just a couple of years ago, while anyone who praises Trump is not “establishment”, no matter how rich and established they may be.

It is a characteristic fascistic tendency to blame present (real or perceived) problems on the malice of shadowy adversaries or outgroups. The Nazis obviously went for racial classifications, but other varieties of fascism show that need not be a factor (Italy, until German pressure prevailed, actually did far more to protect Jews from their ally than, say, Vichy France: 80% of Italian Jews survived). But there is always some group held responsible for the “stab in the back” (the “white nationalists” who have jumped on the Trump bandwagon do of course take a racial approach, including anti-semitism, but again this does not characterize more than a minority of Trump supporters).

3) “He fights”:- Linked to this is the supposed contrast between Trump and “the establishment”: that “he fights!” Fighting apparently solves everything – I have seen repeatedly the response when presented with the arithmetic on impeachment the assertion that if Republicans simply “fought”, they’d get what they want. The mental plan appears to go like this: a) Obama does something b) we “fight” c) ????? d) we win! Similar suggestions are given for election campaigns, as if its simply enough to “fight” the media and the voters, rather than trying to persuade some of the voters to vote for you. Trumps virtue is that he always “fights”. And his followers want a fight.

Fortunately this is violence in a purely rhetorical sense (although Ted Cruz’s proposal regarding ISIS seems to dabble in a similar fallacy that victory is simply a case of dropping more and more explosives). But the valorisation of violence, of “fighting” and of struggle is again characteristic of fascistic modes of thought, including the belief that it is the only, and indeed a sufficient solution (it’s doubtless the line that “violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor” that cause people to misdiagnose Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers as a fascist book, although I’d believe that to be mistaken). “Fighting” solves everything, and so whether Trump “fights” is the important criterion. Few seem to stop and ask “but what is Trump fighting for“?

4) “He’s a winner”:- Linked with the above is that “he’s a winner”. Trump “wins”, and thus he’ll win for his supporters, and again that’s the principle thing. That should have hopefully taken a hit since he actually lost Iowa, though there’s still 49 contests to go and there seems to be a willingness to believe in conspiracy theories (including a ridiculous one where Marco Rubio conspired with Microsoft to go from third place to a closer third place) to explain this apparent not winning. Trump has made this explicitly part of his appeal (“There will be so much winning when I’m elected, you may get bored of winning” – hopefully no one has accused him of being a poet). Implicit (and explicit in the words of a number of his supporters) is the idea that the means don’t matter – it’s okay if Trump resorts to dubious campaign tactics, fights dirty or using extra-constitutional executive orders once in office – if he “wins”. I don’t know if it’s at all necessary to go into this – fascistic movements believed any means were fair if it brought about the desired results (hence their poor track record, amongst other things, of abiding by treaties). Incidentally, I believe this is one of the real connections between Nietzsche and the Nazis. He wasn’t a fascist, and so those scholars who have contested his association with fascism and/or Nazism have a point. The problem with Nietzsche is that the only coherent moral critique you could make of the Nazis based on his philosophy is that they lost.

5) “Make America great again”:- Finally, Trump’s campaign and his supporters indulge in outright nationalism. This characteristic is a widespread feature of fascistic movements, though it is not exclusive: it is the accumulation of these traits, rather than any single one, that leads me to characterise the Trump movement as “proto-fascist”. Certainly a number of his supporters (and not just the “white nationalist” fringe) are attracted by his notion of improving American power, stopping immigration and reversing perceived unfair trade relationships, and I’ve certain seen a few openly acknowledge that he isn’t a “conservative”, but this is outweighed by him being a “nationalist”.

Personally, I believe there’s a distinction between patriotism and nationalism – the former I believe a virtue, while the latter, particularly in its extreme variants, verges on idolatry, especially when it is the nation that becomes the highest virtue. A nationalist is not necessarily a fascist or a proto-fascist (indeed Trump himself is far too incoherent and individualist to be either himself, although I don’t think resembling Andrew Jackson is a good thing either), but its an often universal feature because it presents some collective good that overrides other principles. And indeed, I’ve seen at least a few Trump supporters arguing that the nation must come first, before any other principles.

As stated, a lot of these features are in an early, undeveloped state. In isolation, they may well simple be features of other political tendencies (such as Jacksonianism – though the Trail of Tears argues against taking that as a benign tendency). But together, you have the beginnings of a movement with definite proto-fascist tendencies. With any luck it’ll peter out along with Trump’s own political career. I do not think, however, that this can be regarded with an entirely tranquil gaze.

As for the fringe “white nationalists”, well I hope they go back to what internet abyss they came from. It is perhaps ironic, however, that as much as such people put on an “internet tough guy” approach that they’d have been the first victims of something like “the Night of Long Knives”.

Revisiting Deuteronomy #2: Laman and Lemuel as supposed ‘Deuteronomists’

Having addressed some overall problems with Neal Rappleye’s article, I find there are also issues with Rappleye’s specific claims in regards to Laman and Lemuel. I address his claims as follows:

Claim 1) Laman and Lemuel and their murmuring was motivated by Lehi’s sacrifice

Rappleye suggests that Laman and Lemuel’s murmuring, which commences in 1 Nephi 2:11-12, was ‘evoked, or at least contributed to’, by a ‘perceived violation of Deuteronomic law’ – namely that Lehi’s sacrifices in 1 Nephi 2:7 violated the centralisation of sacrifice in one place as outlined by Deuteronomy 12. A problem with this argument is that their objections are outlined in 1 Nephi 2:11-12, and sacrifice is not given a place. Rather their big complaint is that they have been led out in the wilderness away from their possessions ‘to die in the wilderness’, because their father is ‘a visionary man’, meaning that they saw him as following ‘the foolish imaginations of his heart’.

Claim 2) Their opposition to ‘a visionary man’ was grounded in Deuteronomistic opposition to visions

Rappleye notes that:

According to Kevin Christensen, the Deuteronomist ideology rejected visions as a means of knowing the Lord’s will, and not only did Lehi receive visions, but some of the content of his visions specifically reflected old beliefs the Deuteronomists were trying to eradicate.

Unfortunately, as an example of some of the issues discussed above, Rappleye just assumes that Christensen is correct about this point. He then argues that:

Both John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper have noted that “visionary man” is an appropriate translation of the Hebrew הזח [sic] (ôzeh). Roper adds that the pejorative usage of “visionary man” by Laman and Lemuel was more than mere ridicule or name-calling — it was actually the strong accusation that he was a false prophet. Deuteronomists would have regarded a prophet like Lehi — who claimed to have seen the divine council and received the mysteries (see 1 Nephi 1:8–14) — as a false prophet. Thus Laman and Lemuel calling their father a “visionary man” would be a direct result of their acceptance of the Deuteronomistic interpretation of what a proper prophet should be. They were declaring that their father, by definition of seeing visions, should not be accepted as a true prophet.

There are severe problems with this argument.

First it should really be noted that in a sense the ‘Deuteronomists’ are imaginary. There is no record of them in the biblical writings. Rather scholars have suggested that Josiah’s reforms were motivated and carried out by a group that they called ‘Deuteronomists’, so-called because it is supposed that the ‘book of the law’ discovered not only was the book of Deuteronomy, but that it was largely written at that time. This is usually attributed to the work of a school rather than a single individual (one might cynically think because scholars seem to imagine the past filled with people much like themselves), hence ‘Deuteronomists’. This school and the book of Deuteronomy are likewise argued to have influenced the aforementioned ‘Deuteronomistic history’, which at the very least is held to have been significantly influenced by if not also part of this reforming programme.

This is an important point, because any views attributed to these ‘Deuteronomists’ is – and has to be due to lack of any other evidence – a reconstruction based on the principle concerns of the book of Deuteronomy and the books of the DH. Any discussion of what the ‘Deuteronomists’ did or did not think then cannot be separated from those books themselves, despite Rappleye’s apparent efforts.

Now the Book of Deuteronomy itself does warn against Prophets or dreamers of dreams who urge the worshipping of other Gods (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), but it also clearly makes room for true prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15), nor does there seem sufficient evidence that visions per se made one a false prophet.

However, the specific claim that חֹזֵה (spelled incorrectly though transliterated correctly as ôzeh in the article – I suspect the spelling got accidentally inverted when published on the Interpreter website) is to always be taken as a pejorative charge referring to a false prophet seems difficult to square with use of the term in the ‘Deuteronomistic history’ itself. Thus in 1 Samuel 3:1, we find the statement that ‘the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision’, the word used for ‘vision’ here (חָזֹון) being based on the same root as חֹזֵה. As for the term חֹזֵה itself, it finds use in 2 Samuel 24:11, where we learn that ‘the word of the Lord came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer (חֹזֵה)’. Here it is clearly not being used in any pejorative sense, and certainly not in the meaning of a false prophet. Whatever Laman and Lemuel meant by ‘a visionary man’ (and the example mentioned above seems to smack more of scepticism than pious indignation), it doesn’t seem to match that of the writer(s) of the DH.

Claim 3) Their belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem derived from the ‘Deuteronomists’

In all fairness, there does indeed appear to be a strong link between Laman and Lemuel and Jerusalem. They indeed do not believe Jerusalem can be destroyed (1 Nephi 2:13), assert the righteousness of the people there (1 Nephi 17:22) and are compared to the people there by Nephi (1 Nephi 17:44). My own research into 1 Nephi 20//Isaiah 48 has been likewise suggestive of this link (see v.2, where the textual differences in the Book of Mormon version have those who ‘call themselves of the holy city, but they do not stay themselves on the God of Israel’). And likewise it seems many in Jerusalem believed it was inviolable, so much so that Jeremiah had to contend with false prophets promising deliverance (Jeremiah 28).

The mistake is to attribute this to the ‘Deuteronomists’ or to Josiah’s reforms. A prominent theme both of Deuteronomy and the DH are the blessings and cursings attached to covenantal obedience, including foreshadowing the scattering of Israel (Deuteronomy 28). And if the ‘book of the law’ was indeed Deuteronomy, Josiah’s reaction to rend his clothes is consistent with a message that promises rather the opposite of inviolability (2 Kings 22:11). Claims that ‘in the Deuteronomist history, Josiah “is depicted as a second David” and “touted as the ideal Davidic king”’ fail to spot the rather obvious point that, in the very same ‘Deuteronomistic history’, Josiah’s reward is to be spared seeing the inevitable destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem by dying first (2 Kings 22:16-20, 23:26-27).

Thus neither Deuteronomy nor the DH teach the inviolability of Jerusalem, nor does Josiah react as one who does either. Regrettably what seems to be the case is that Rappleye (and Christensen, as I covered before), simply conflate Josiah’s reign and its reform movement with Josiah’s successors. This is despite the fact that – unlike Josiah – nearly every one of Josiah’s successors including Zedekiah is mentioned as doing ‘evil in the sight of the Lord’ (2 Kings 23:32, 24:9, 24:19 – again in a record supposed to have been composed by the ‘Deuteronomists’). There is no reason to suppose any supporters of Josiah’s reforms were in power or the ‘gatekeepers of Jewish orthodoxy’ as is assumed.

Claim 4) Their attempts to murder Nephi were motivated by the law

With the points addressed above, the idea that Laman and Lemuel’s attempts at murdering their brother were motivated by the belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem and death sentence to false prophets seem to fall short. Lest it need to be addressed, however, 1 Nephi 16:37-38 explains their motivation for at least one attempt, and while they claim Nephi has deceived them by his “cunning arts”, their primary concern is not to strike him down out of some outraged piety but out of the the belief that he will usurp power over them.

Claim 5) Nephi’s allusions to Joseph reflect on the Deuteronomistic antagonism towards wisdom traditions, of which Joseph is supposedly an example.

I believe it to be entirely likely that their are allusions to the story of Joseph in 1 Nephi. The suggestion that the ‘Deuteronomists’ felt some special aversion to him and to ‘wisdom traditions’ is simply asserted by reference to Christensen, without reproducing Christensen’s arguments. I have already briefly addressed some of Christensen’s arguments on this topic, and found these arguments severely flawed.

Claim 6) Laman and Lemuel are ‘Deuteronomists’ because of their ‘veneration’ of the law

Rappleye then makes the startling claim that Laman and Lemuel are to be seen as ‘Deuteronomists’ because of their ‘veneration’ of the law. He makes this claim based on their statement in 1 Nephi 17:22:

And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him. And after this manner of language did my brethren murmur and complain against us.

This however is questionable.

Firstly it should be noted that a key objection of theirs is ‘our father hath judged them’, a complaint that should sound rather familiar in the modern age. Whether Laman and Lemuel’s assessment as to righteousness is to be taken as entirely accurate or disinterested, and whether they are really reliable on the question of the law of Moses should be questioned, but particularly so for the fact that they do not rebut their father’s charges against the people of Jerusalem, but complain that he levelled any at all.

Lehi’s charges, for that matter, are rather serious, ‘for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations’ (1 Nephi 1:19). Nor does the Lord’s statement to Jeremiah that the people ‘have forsaken my law which I have set before them’ (Jeremiah 9:13) suggest the people were venerating or obeying the law of Moses. And repeatedly throughout Jeremiah we find specific instances of wickedness and idolatry, including precisely of the sort condemned in Deuteronomy (e.g. Jeremiah 7:17-31, Jeremiah 19:1-5, see Deuteronomy 12:31). The idea that that the people were still swept up in Josiah’s reforms and full of enthusiasm for the law as outlined in Deuteronomy is flatly contradicted by Jeremiah, which records the persistence of idolatry and other violations of that law. This appears to have been ignored because of the conflation of Josiah’s reforms with the reign of his successors; Jeremiah indicates that the reforms didn’t take and were rejected by the people and the wicked kings that followed Josiah, but the proffered paradigm must insist in the face of evidence that somehow the reformers were still in charge, and all the idolatry recorded by Jeremiah (and Ezekiel) had actually been successfully repressed.

Moreover the Book of Mormon itself provides us with scenarios where people claim some sort of adherence to the law, even while violating it. Abinadi was faced with priests who claimed to teach the law of Moses (Mosiah 12:28), but forcibly points out their failure to teach and keep the ten commandments (Mosiah 12:37, 13:25-26). He furthermore appears to distinguish between these ‘commandments’ (12:33, 13:11) and what he terms a  ‘law of performances and ordinances’ intended to keep people ‘in remembrance of God and their duty towards him’ (Mosiah 13:30) that is a type of things to come. Likewise Jeremiah appears to indicate that the people of Jerusalem placed a lot of confidence in their offerings and sacrifices, but had failed to obey the Lord (Jeremiah 7.21-24). This idea, that compunction in ritual sacrifice and ceremonial law could excuse failure to keep the more basic commandments, may well be on the minds of Laman and Lemuel. It is certainly not, however, to be found in Deuteronomy or the ‘Deuteronomistic history’, for indeed as the latter states: ‘Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams’ (1 Samuel 15:22).

Assessment of claims

Thus on inspection, each of Rappleye’s points appear lacking. The text of the Book of Mormon does not appear to offer particular support to his claims. Nor, for that matter, does the biblical text support many of the claims made for the supposed ‘Deuteronomists’. The likely beliefs of the reform movement seem misrepresented, as does the situation following the death of Josiah. The latter in particular carries significant implications. Thus, according to the Barker/Christensen paradigm, Josiah’s reforms suppressed idolatry, including offerings to the Queen of Heaven which are supposed to be a genuine (and thus true) part of this ‘Temple theology’. Yet Jeremiah records that idolatry persisted, and has the Lord stating that such idolatry, including offerings to the Queen of Heaven, are part of the very reason for the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:19-20, Jeremiah 44:2-9). Arguments that Josiah’s suppression of such offerings in the Temple were purging something genuine risk siding with those men and women who rejected Jeremiah’s words, and argued that they should keep worshipping the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 44:15-19), an argument the Lord was not impressed with:

…Hear the word of the Lord, all Judah that are in the land of Egypt:
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying; Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her: ye will surely accomplish your vows, and surely perform your vows.
Therefore hear ye the word of the Lord, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt; Behold, I have sworn by my great name, saith the Lord, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord God liveth.
Behold, I will watch over them for evil, and not for good: and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them.
(Jeremiah 44:24–27)